Chassidic Psychologymain posts

Healing with Faith

Faith is the beginning and foundation of all the faculties of the soul. If we wish to understand the soul and its well-being, we must first study faith. The health of the soul emanates from the strength of faith, and everything ultimately begins and ends with faith. In the soul, the power of faith corresponds to earth—one of the four elements—as it is written, “All was from the dust, and all returns to the dust.”[1]

There are four interpretations of the root word “faith” (אֱמוּנָה), pronounced emunah, in Hebrew. Each expresses a different aspect of faith:

The first meaning of faith is perseverance, signifying power and enduring existence. The verse that expresses this is, “O’ Havayah, You are my God; I will exalt You; I will praise Your name, for You have done wonderful things, advice from afar, faithful and certain.”[2] The straightforward meaning of the verse is that God fulfilled all the distant promises that He made to our forefathers in a miraculous manner. The concluding phrase, "faithful and certain" (אֱמוּנָה אֹמֶן) conveys the idea of "sustaining existence" or "enduring strength."

The second meaning of faith is trustworthiness, which means placing trust in someone and relying on them. The simple meaning of believing in someone is to rely on them. For a person to be emotionally healthy, they must find a source of strength on which they can rely and place their faith. The verse that expresses this (in a negative sense) appears in the Song of Ha'azinu,[3] where God states regarding Israel, “They are a perverse generation, children in whom there is no faith,”[4] meaning that they cannot be relied upon.

The third meaning of faith is the nursing or nurturing provided by a guardian (אוֹמֵן) or wet-nurse (אוֹמֶנֶת). The verse that expresses this appears in the Book of Esther regarding Mordechai, “And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle's daughter,”[5] where the meaning is that Mordechai took care of her upbringing, care, and education. It is the responsibility of the guardian or educator to influence and strengthen the power of faith within the soul of the student.

The fourth meaning of faith is “art” (אָמָנוּת), as expressed for example in the verse, “the handiwork of the artisan”[6] (מַעֲשֵׂה יְדֵי אָמָּן). Today, in Hebrew, we distinguish between omanut (אָמָנוּת), meaning art, and umnut (אֻמְנוּת), meaning craftsmanship, but in Scripture, there was no such distinction. From a linguistic context, we can learn that all forms of art are external expressions of faith. This final understanding complements the first understanding: art is the most important and beneficial means for strengthening the soul and its well-being, as art expresses faith. Therefore, the more successful a person is in expressing themselves through various forms of art, the more they will reveal the hidden powers of faith within themselves.

The Four Meanings of Faith and God’s Essential Name

Now, let us contemplate, following the methods of Kabbalah, on the supernal root of the four interpretations through their correspondence[7] to the four letters of God’s essential Name, Havayah (yud-hei-vav-hei), which are the fundamental structure of all existence, both universal and particular:

  • Yud (י): Faith meaning perseverance. The letter yud in God’s essential Name, Havayah, represents the Father principle (Abba). In the home, the father signifies strength and existence.
  • Hei (ה): Faith meaning trustworthiness. The first hei in the name of the Tetragrammaton represents the Mother principle (Imma), who instills the feeling of trust in whom to rely upon, as it is written (regarding Moses, who “merited understanding”[8]), “In all My house, he is faithful.”[9]
  • Vav (ו): Faith meaning nurturing. The vav in the name of the Tetragrammaton represents the son, whose essence is to be educated, to "train," to discover and develop the hidden treasure of faith within one's soul. Nurturing depends on the attributes of the heart, on emotion, which corresponds to the vav in the name.
  • Hei (ה): Faith meaning art. The final hei in the name of the Tetragrammaton represents the daughter, the secret of kingship (reality), which provides tangible expression to faith.

Faith – the Foundation of Health and Rectification

What is the connection between health and faith? The phrase “the handiwork of the artisan” from the Song of Songs[10] describes Creation as a work of art fashioned by the Creator. The Torah begins with the verse, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”[11] In a homiletic interpretation, we like to explain that the first few words indicate that first things first (the beginning): one must be healthy! Because the word for “health” (בָּרִיא) is almost identical with the word “created” (בָּרָא), we say that the first thing is to be healthy in body and healthy in soul. Indeed, the continuation of the verse "the heavens and the earth" alludes to the heavens and earth within the person: the heavens are the soul,[12] and the earth is the body.

There are two meanings associated with “created” (בָּרָא):

Ramban (Nachmanides) writes in his commentary on the Torah’s first verse that there is no word in the holy language that describes coming into being from nothingness except for the verb to create (בָּרָא). According to this, the Torah is telling us that the Universe was created ex nihilo, i.e., out of nothingness. Its matter did not predate the Creator’s act of Creation as believed by the ancient Greeks.

However, we find a completely contradictory interpretation in the books of Kabbalah. According to this interpretation, the Torah’s first verse, “In the beginning, God created” is understood to as happening against the backdrop of its second verse, “And the earth [already] was formless and void.”[13] This would seem to indicate that the account of creation is describing a specific stage in the process of the unfolding of the worlds—a stage involving rectification and healing. In other words, the Torah begins by describing the stage of rectification, which comes after a prior shattering. Before creation, there was a primordial reality known as “the World of Chaos” (עוֹלַם הַתֹּהוּ) which could not sustain itself and shattered into fragments. Now it needs to be rectified, and the verb that expresses this process of restoration is “created”—to restore the broken world. Now, the key to seeing the relevance of this interpretation for us as people is that a person who has experienced the trauma of collapse or having his life shattered, is like all of Creation that needed to be healed, restored, and rectified.

We now have what appear to be two completely opposite perspectives regarding Creation and we are faced with the question of whether the world is like a clean, empty sheet of paper (according to the first interpretation), or is it like paper that has been written upon and then erased and now needs to be rectified to the greatest extent possible (according to the second interpretation)?

The answer to this becomes clear in the books of Kabbalah and Chasidut themselves: to truly heal the soul, one must reach a hidden place within it, a primary and superconscious root that is higher than the state of brokenness that manifests closer to the surface. The power to rectify and heal comes from that part of the soul that exists above the point of fracture and the visible rectification in our eyes. The connection to that place and to that part of the soul can only be made through faith. Faith must be placed in the belief that deep within the great sense of brokenness, there is still an immutable and concealed root that lies above all brokenness, and from which a path of true healing can be discovered and followed. That place that we seek through our power of faith is not broken and can never break. It parallels what is said in relation to the Almighty Himself, “I, Havayah, have not changed,”[14] as well as, “You are the same before the world was created, You are the same after the world was created, You are the same in this world and You are the same in the World to Come.”[15] God is the unchanging core of all reality and revealing this unchanging and immutable core of the Divine soul within Israel, which is “a part of God above,” is the secret of faith.

Coping with Difficulties

The Tanya—the foundational book of Chasidut, written by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad—consists of advice for healing the soul. In one of its passages, it describes a person who has difficulties in the areas of family, health, or livelihood,[16] and these material hardships greatly burden their soul. The author then explain that there is only one way to cope with these difficulties: the way of faith!

Here are his words[17]:

"…only true faith in the Creator of the beginning, meaning that creation ex nihilo, which is known as “the beginning of wisdom” (רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה), and it is this, His wisdom, that cannot be comprehended by any created being. This creation, the continuous emergence of all existence from nothingness, is constantly happening through His wisdom, which enlivens everything. When a person contemplates deeply and constantly visualizes in his mind how his own existence emerges from nothingness at every moment, how can he conceive that anything is bad for him or that he experiences any suffering in terms of his livelihood or other hardships in the world? For, that which cannot be conceived, that which is His blessed wisdom, is the source of life, goodness, pleasure, and the bliss that surpasses the World to Come. It is only because one does not contemplate this that it appears to him as if there is evil or suffering. But in truth, no evil descends from above, and everything is good. It is just that its magnitude and abundant goodness cannot be conceived. This is the essence of faith, for the sake of which man was created…

When a person visualizes in his mind that he is constantly emerging from nothingness and absolute nonexistence, he will not feel any suffering at all. The feeling of suffering comes to a person because he cannot grasp the nothingness, that which is the Divine wisdom that is the source of life, goodness, and pleasure, “the bliss that surpasses the World to Come.” Therefore, it appears to him that there is evil and suffering in the world. Only when a person contemplates with “true faith in the Creator of Creation” can he discover the Divine nothingness that heals shattered being.

The connection established with the Divine nothingness through faith is a covenant (the essence of the covenant that God made with the Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). One who connects to the Divine nothingness, out of which all of existence emerges at every moment, will certainly not sense any evil since that very nothingness is the essence and source of pleasure and goodness that surpasses the World to Come. The Divine nothingness transcends both the state of brokenness (which is “this world”) and rectification (the World to Come), and therefore, it specifically is what empowers a person to rectify every wound.

What is Nothingness?

A word needs to be said about what “nothingness” (ayin) refers to. Ayin refers to that which is so completely distinct and sanctified from all that is familiar and tangible to us, that relative to our comprehension it is as if it does not exist at all. When we do not connect with the Ayin, we find ourselves subject to the shattered nature of this world, immersed in its difficulties and suffering. Only when we return to the Ayin through faith does everything transform into absolute goodness that cannot be comprehended.

How We Heal

Now let us reconcile the two interpretations of the word “creation” discussed earlier. The Ramban’s interpretation, that the world was created by God ex nihilo and absolute nothingness (contrary to the Greek belief in the world's eternal past), applies primarily to consciousness of the present moment, and not to the past.

On the other hand, regarding past consciousness, the Kabbalistic interpretation is appropriate, as creation implies rectification (healing, as noted above). Put together, these two interpretations mean that one should recognize that there was a past state of brokenness, but that now it is incumbent upon them to emerge from the state brought about by that shattering and rectify themselves and others. Thus, the true meaning of “In the beginning God created” (בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא) is that the first thing is to repair the brokenness (according to the second interpretation) in a manner that follows the principle of “something from nothing” (following the first interpretation), but not in the sense of creation ex nihilo that occurred years ago, rather as a continuous creation of something from nothing that transcends time and appears within it at every moment, including this very moment.

In Kabbalah, the shattering of the World of Chaos occurs from the sefirah of understanding (binah) and below to knowledge (da’at), etc.[18] In contrast, the sefirah of wisdom (chochmah), which is situated above understanding, and which we saw corresponds to “the beginning of wisdom”[19] (רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה), which is the aspect of ayin that is completely ungraspable to the human mind), lies above time, above the process of brokenness and rectification/healing. The rupture experienced in understanding, in binah, must be rectified by the force of renewal found in the ayin of wisdom, as alluded to in the phrase, “And wisdom will be found from nothingness [from ayin]”[20] (וְהַחָכְמָה מֵאַיִן תִּמָּצֵא) which in Kabbalistic and Chasidic works is interpreted to mean that wisdom, which emerges from the ayin, will be found in understanding.[21] Thus, wisdom that emerges from the ayin will find its way into understanding and there the ayin will become part of being thereby restoring the broken nature of reality.

To summarize, through the power of true faith that the world is constantly renewed ex nihilo at this very moment, it is possible to effortlessly heal the situation caused by past events. Because the Divine nothingness transcends even the World to Come, there is no need to engage in an overt struggle between the good that will be revealed in the World to Come and the evil present in our present reality. The only thing required is to illuminate our reality with the Divine good that stands above all.

Faith — The Unknowable Head

As noted above, the essence of faith cannot be understood at all. In Kabbalistic terminology, faith is identified with the highest part of the sefirah of crown. The crown refers to the soul’s superconscious level and consists of three elements known collectively as the “three heads of the crown.”[22] The highest head is called the Unknowable Head, or the Radla (רדל"א), an acronym for “the Head that cannot be known.” It both does not know itself and consequently is also unknowable to others. Below it is the “Head of Nothingness,” or Reisha DeAyin, which is identified in Chasidic thought with the source of pleasure in the soul. The lowest head is the “Head of Patience” or alternately, the “Elongated Head,” or Reisha De’Arich, which is identified as the source of will in the soul. Faith, the Radla, corresponds to the true absolute nothingness above the Reisha De’Ayin.

part of the crown name source of
The Unknowable Head Radla רֵישָׁא דְּלָא אִתְיָדַע faith
The Head of Nothingness Reisha De’Ayin רֵישָׁא דְּאָיִן


The Head of Patience Reisha De’Arich רֵישָׁא דְּאַרִיךְ will

Enclothment and Expression

A power of the soul can be known to the individual or to others only when it is enclothed in a garment, or vessel. The garment or vessel serves as a means of expression for that power or faculty and thus allows it to become known and familiar. If on the other hand, the power or faculty is not enclothed in anything, it cannot be perceived or grasped. In the soul, there is only one power that is not enclothed in any garment; this is the Unknowable Head, which corresponds to faith. Because of this, faith is sometimes referred to as Reish Gli[23] (רֵישׁ גְלִי)—literally, the head that is revealed and divested of all garments. All the sefirot and all the partzufim in Kabbalah are enclothed one within the other, like a pipe within a pipe, except for the Radla—the power of earnest and simple faith.

When a person is subservient to something, when he is engrossed, caught up with, or applying himself to anything (be it a material desire, a search for spiritual experience, or certain intellectual pursuits), he cannot reveal his power of faith. True faith is abstract and sublime, transcending above any preliminary conceptual scheme.

It is related that there were chasidim, who when they reached the zenith of a deep contemplation of the Divine, actually lost certainty regarding their own existence! This is the Law of Uncertainty[24] of the soul at the level of Radla. When a person seems to himself to be present and alive, he cannot experience his earnest and primary faculty of faith. Only when he reaches absolute uncertainty about his own existence can he truly find God. When Abraham, the father of all men of faith, reached a state of existential solitude, that is when he discovered God, the Creator of the world.

Thus, faith can be described as a state of “existential solitude”[25] (בְּדִידוּת קִיּוּמִית). Abraham is known as “the Ivri[26] (transliterated as “Hebrew”), which literally means “who crossed over” because the whole world was on one side, and he was on the other side.[27] Being on the “other side” of the entire world refers to not accepting all the assumptions normally made; rejecting all the certainties commonly held regarding existence and reality. Abraham rejected it all when God “took him outside,”[28] meaning that God figuratively placed Abraham beyond the limits of experience within reality, with the Universe, and there Abraham revealed the path of faith. It was there that he discovered God. The words, “view me from the summit of faith”[29] (תָּשׁוּרִי מֵרֹאשׁ אֲמָנָה) refers, according to the sages,[30] to Abraham, who reveals God through the “revealed head” (רֵישׁ גְלִי), the connotation for the soul’s power of faith, which we saw above.

In the Zohar, it is said that “when the head of the people is rectified, the entire people is rectified.”[31] When the head of the nation is rectified, naturally the entire nation is rectified (and conversely, when the king is not rectified, no individuals can be rectified). “Rectification,” in Kabbalah, implies enclothment.[32] As mentioned, enclothment is what allows for expression and revelation. Thus, the “head of the people” referred to in this phrase from the Zohar, also refers to the Unknowable Head, the Radla. When focusing on a single individual, the “head of the people” refers to the soul’s power of self-exaltation. The equivalent of the entire people being rectified occurs when the soul’s power of faith is expressed and inspires all the individual’s conscious powers and is then revealed through them. When faith illuminates the soul and guides all aspects of an individual’s life, all the other faculties are rectified as well. In contrast, when faith is blemished, all the other faculties are also flawed. The foundation of faith determines everything.


[1]. Ecclesiastes 3:20.

[2]. Isaiah 25:1.

[3]. Deuteronomy ch. 32.

[4]. Ibid. v. 20.

[5]. Esther 2:7.

[6]. Song of Songs 7:2.

[7]. The word “kabbalah” in Scripture derives from the word meaning “parallel” as in Exodus 26:5 (מַקְבִּילֹת הַלֻּלָאֹת).

[8]. See Rosh Hashanah 21b. Zohar 2:115a and Nitzotzei Zohar there.

[9]. Numbers 12:7.

[10]. 7:2.

[11]. Genesis 1:1.

[12]. In fact, the value of “the heavens” (הַשָּׁמַיִם) is the same as the value of “soul” (נְשָׁמָה).

[13]. Genesis 1:2.

[14]. Malachi 3:6.

[15]. Shabbat morning liturgy.

[16]. Mo’ed Katan 28a.

[17]. Tanya, Iggeret HaKodesh 11.

[18]. Regarding the statement that the shattering begins from understanding and continues downwards, there are two interpretations offered in Kabbalah, which we will write out in shorthand notation for those who are versed in this topic:

  1. The entire shattering is manifested in the part of Adam Kadmon (Primordial Man) that is the lights of the Name Sag (63), which of the four central fillings of God’s essential Name, Havayah (72, 63, 45, and 52) corresponds to understanding.
  2. The beginning of the shattering of the sefirot of Nekudim, the World of Chaos, was in the backside (אֲחוֹרַיִם ) of Abba and Imma, and the relationship between the frontside (פָּנִים) of Abba and Imma and their backside parallels the later relationship between wisdom and understanding.

[19]. Psalms 111:10.

[20]. Job 28:12.

[21]. In Hebrew the word for “will be found” (תִּמָּצֵא) is cognate with the word meaning “reality” (מְצִיאוּת). Where wisdom corresponds to the Ayin, the nothingness that cannot be grasped, understanding corresponds to the beginnings of reality. Thus, the wisdom that emerges from the nothingness will be found, i.e., come into being and become part of reality, through understanding.

[22]. A topic explored in length in our Hebrew volume, Shiurim BeSod HaShem LiYerei’av vol. 3, pp. 295ff.

[23]. See Onkelos on Exodus 14:8.

[24]. The equivalent of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle in Quantum Physics.

[25]. The initials of “existential solitude” (בְּדִידוּת קִיּוּמִית) are בק; their numerical value is 102, the same as “faith” (אֱמוּנָה). The value of this phrase, “existential solitude” (בְּדִידוּת קִיּוּמִית) is 4 times the value of “Abraham” (אַבְרָהָם), as above.

[26]. Genesis 14:13.

[27]. Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 42:8.

[28]. Genesis 15:6.

[29]. Song of Song 4:8.

[30]. Shir HaShirim Rabbah 4:3.

[31]. As quoted in Chasidic works, based on Zohar 3:135a.

[32]. Indeed, in Aramaic, garments are called tikunim, meaning “rectifications.”

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